Bob Skinstad might be better known for his skills with a rugby ball, but he’s learnt as much off the field as he did on the field.
Avidly interested in business from a young age, the former flanker has launched a successful charity foundation, a chain of pub restaurants in the Western Cape, two tech start-ups and was recently appointed MD of Itec Connect Western Cape, a business which he has also invested in.
Not too shabby for ball player. And yet Skinstad’s growing business reputation did not happen by chance.
“There’s a Henry Ford quote that has always resonated with me,” he says. “Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars.
Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.
“It’s fitting advice, whether you’re trying to score a goal or grow a business. Without enthusiasm and the will to succeed, your successes will be lukewarm at best.”
Under promise, over deliver
According to Skinstad, being a sports personality has its pros and cons, but business lessons are universal.
“I’ve found that even though I know Itec’s business inside out, particularly the value we bring our customers, when I walk into a room for a sales meeting the decision maker sees me with a rugby ball in my hand.
“There’s no point pretending that the situation is different to what it is. A more realistic approach is for me to thank them for taking the time to see us, briefly introduce Itec, and then hand the meeting over to our best tech guy, who will walk them through the offering. I bring value to the table, and I will often take follow up calls and act as customer liaison, but the goal is always ‘what is best for the business’, and sometimes handing over to someone who clients view as the expert is the best move.”
For Skinstad, perception is an important business tool that should never be ignored. “Customers have a specific expectation of the businesses they deal with,” he explains.
“Every growing business needs to understand how their customers perceive them, what they are expected to deliver on and most importantly, how they will always make good on those expectations.
“Always under promise and over deliver,” he continues. “You need to know exactly what you’re capable of, and then give yourself some leeway. Don’t promise to deliver by the following day if you only hope you can do so. Know that you can deliver in a day, and then promise delivery within 48 hours. You’ve mitigated expectations, but you will always over deliver, and the result will be a customer who sings your praises.”
The key to success
“Too many businesses ignore problems, and try to fix things that are working well,” Skinstad continues. “We think that constant change is good, and then forget to focus on the few things we do really well, keeping them consistent.
“I once did a keynote address with Kevin Roberts, CEO worldwide of Saatchi and Saatchi. We did the address three times to three different groups of people.
On day two I changed my speech, even though the only person who had already heard it was Kevin. I was embarrassed that he would hear exactly the same thing again, and thought I had to shake things up.
“Afterwards, he came to me and asked why I had changed it. When I told him I was trying to avoid being repetitive, he said to me, ‘Repetition of a good thing is the key to success’.
I’ve never forgotten those words. They’ve stuck with me in everything I do. Find the best way to do something (even if you make mistakes along the way), change what needs changing, always look after the customer, but most importantly, figure out what your business does best, and keep repeating it. You can’t go wrong.”